Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Friends with Benefits (2011) – Review

Review: Friends with Benefits is really funny with sweet rom-com moments and surprising dramatic depth among its characters (considering its genre). The film is sort of hypocritical as it both tries to dismiss and deconstruct the romantic comedy genre (one that is mostly in total disarray) while at the same time completely complying with the genre’s narrative structure guidelines. The movie within a movie (which takes place in NYC, but is comically shot in LA with poorly done makeshift signs and dialog) goes out of its way to make fun of the genre, only for the lead female character Jamie to be enamored with it and the lead male character Dylan to learn how to win her back from it (oh yeah, and spoiler alert on that last sentence if you have never seen a rom-com and have not realized that their structures are almost always the same). Writer-director Will Gluck stays within the lines narratively speaking, but brings a lot of fresh and funny comedy to the film which ultimately sets it above many entries in the genre in recent years. A generic genre film with fairly standard leads can be overcome to a degree when the jokes are good, and in this film they are. This film suffers a little from Hollywood repetition (there is always some plot that garners at least two film each year – things like 1997’s Dante’s Peak and Volcano or 1998’s Armageddon and Deep Impact or 1999’s The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc and Joan of Arc), as earlier this year No Strings Attached came out touting generally the same logline – though with a deeper look the films are quite different, and both are very funny. The deeper look does not necessarily matter though as many will assume they are both the same movie. Along with the comedy, Will Gluck also bestows the film with great supporting characters that are surprisingly well drawn with dramatic and emotionally engaging depth, especially Jamie’s mother and Dylan’s father. These types of characters provide the film with emotional weight (and maybe even a little too much at times for those wanting a purely light film) and help further develop the leads, both of which are generally good things. When all is said and done, Friends with Benefits is a good film. It has the outline of a typical romantic comedy (which keeps it from being great), but the body of the piece is fresh enough to overcome what is somewhat becoming a tired genre (or is a tired genre).

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: Will Gluck is now three for three in making entertaining, light and funny movies (for me, Friends with Benefits is his best to date, but for most other critics it is probably Easy A). Cinematographer Michael Grady does good work for a genre that features a fairly standard Hollywood shooting style and the same can be said for Marcia Hinds, who does a great job with both her locations and set design – giving more depth to the characters with her work. Romantic comedies often come down to the chemistry and compatibility of their leads. Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake are both great on their own and work very well together. Most of the best stuff in the film comes from them being together onscreen. Jenna Elfman (who takes a good Dharma & Greg joke) and Bryan Greenberg are good in supporting roles, but Patricia Clarkson, Woody Harrelson and especially Richard Jenkins (whose performance is almost too good to be in this type of film) steal most of their scenes. There are also fun cameos from Andy Samberg, Emma Stone, Jason Segel, Rashida Jones, Masi Oka, and Shaun White.

Summary & score: Friends with Benefits works because of its great leads and very funny jokes, but is also sort of a paint-by-numbers romantic comedy narratively speaking. 7/10

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